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27th November 2015
Nexen fine for taking water from B.C. lake a ‘slap on the wrist’

Nexen Energy, the Canadian subsidiary of a Chinese state-run oil corporation, has pleaded guilty to damaging the habitat of a lake in northeastern B.C. by taking water for a nearby fracking operation, which violated its water licence.

The Calgary-based company, owned by the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corp., has agreed to pay $75,000 in fines, all but $1,000 of which will go to a Victoria-based environmental conservation charity, a clerk at the Fort Nelson Provincial Court said.

Lana Lowe, director of the Fort Nelson First Nation’s Lands and Resources Department, said she was disappointed with the amount the company was fined, which she called a “slap on the wrist.”

She said neither Nexen nor the government had “an understanding of the hydrology of the area” and added that “there’s still no baseline data collection” on the health of the region’s watersheds. She said that the $74,000 Nexen agreed to pay the non-profit Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation would be better used to bolster the environmental protections of the first nation’s traditional territory, which sits atop three of the province’s four shale gas fields undergoing hydraulic fracturing. (The charity supplies grants to people across the province with proposals that benefit fish, wildlife and habitat.)

“There’s very limited water monitoring and there’s still no water management planning happening in our territories and that’s something we want to do with B.C.,” Ms. Lowe said.

Brittney Price, a spokeswoman for Calgary-based Nexen, said in an e-mailed statement that the company respects the sentence and has implemented “additional monitoring and communications protocols.”

“We remain committed to engaging all our stakeholders near our Northeast B.C. operations, and to the health and safety of our employees, contractors, the environment and the communities where we operate,” her statement read.

In September, B.C.’s Environmental Appeal Board cancelled the remaining two and a half years of Nexen’s “fundamentally flawed” licence to withdraw 2.5 million cubic metres of water annually from North Tsea Lake, which kept the company’s nearby fracking operations running. The board found the company provided inadequate water data to secure the licence and, at points, the government “was unclear with the First Nation regarding the consultation process.”

The area went through a drought in the summer of 2012, but the company continued to withdraw water, which depleted the water level of the lake, damaged vegetation and likely harmed fish stocks. A local person informed the first nation’s leaders of the ongoing depletion, but the provincial government took more than five months to respond to the Fort Nelson’s complaint, Ms. Lowe said.

A government spokesman said on Thursday that the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations was delayed by the company in assessing information surrounding the complaint.

Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Liz Logan said the Wednesday’s fines were “a long time coming” and hoped that such violations were rare in her traditional territory.

“This is one that has come to our attention, and I hope that it’s not part of a wider problem,” Chief Logan said. “We are doing our homework, we’re watching what’s going on in our territory.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to go so far as going to court and going to the environmental appeal board, but that’s what good stewardship’s about.”

She said her nation of about 800 people is committed to maintaining a good working relationship with the industry.

“That’s the only economy up here right now,” Chief Logan said. “We don’t have forestry, we don’t have mining, we don’t have anything else.

“So that’s where our people work.”

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